Core texts for RE; teaching key concepts through exegesis


“Religion doesn’t inherently speak for itself; no scripture, no book, no piece of writing has its own voice. I subscribe to this view whether I’m interpreting Shakespeare or interpreting religious scripture”

Islam and the future of Tolerance: A dialogue, 2015, USA, p.5

I’ve blogged before how I’m not teaching the new GCSE RS with just the content on the spec but beyond that with important key concepts (see here). However I am also using key texts or selected ‘sources of wisdom and authority’ from the two religions we study: Christianity & Islam. These aren’t all directly mentioned in the specification.

I thought I’d share four key texts that I believe cover many of the beliefs and teachings that they themselves cover a lot of the specification. They directly or indirectly cover key concepts in each religion. In fact, they could easily take several lessons to unpick and link/extend to other concepts. And if we’re preparing for exams they provide quotations for students.


Muhammad’s final speech (copy here)

This is a really important Hadith. Teaching the context of the speech itself is important; why Muhammad said the things he did. If students understand the situation in Makkah when Muhammad started out, they’ll understand more comprehensively why he said these things.

It covers key ideas including:

  • Treatment of women
  • The 5 pillars of Islam/10 Obligatory acts
  • Interest/usury
  • Equality
  • Judgement
  • The existence and power of Satan
  • Belief in Adam & Eve
  • Ummah (brotherhood)
  • The ‘path’ of Islam
  • The final prophet
  • Sunnah

Each of these can easily be used to extend into other areas for example, by talking about Adam and Eve you can discuss creation, sin, Allah’s forgiveness, Prophethood, khalifahs, angels and Jinn etc Each aspect could easily be a lesson in itself.

The Hadith of Jibril (copy here)

The nice thing about this text is that it is a story. It deals with the core beliefs of Muslims and therefore can be used when teaching the Sunni five pillars and 6 articles of faith, alongside the Shi’a 5 roots of Usul ad-din and 10 obligatory acts.

Students can discuss the nature of the story; why would an angel come and speak to them? What distinguishes the angel? What does this tell us about Muslim beliefs?


The Creeds (Nicene and Apostles) (copy here)

The useful aspect of these texts is that they can be used to discuss how Christianity developed since the early Church and why the creeds were created. Students can unpick why there are different versions and what the similarities and differences are. This can then also extend to look at Christian denominations and how they use the creeds today.

The Lord’s Prayer (copy here)

Questioning and discussion of the texts is important so students can really appreciate the meaning and beliefs behind the words.

  1. Why did Jesus give this prayer?
  2. How/where/when is it used by Christians today?
  3. What does bread represent here? Why is bread a key feature in Christian beliefs? How does it link to other stories/events? How is bread used in Christian worship?
  4. What does ‘kingdom’ mean in this context? Why might this word be used? How does it link to other teachings?
  5. Why is forgiveness important to Christians? What story links to being tempted? For some Christians this links to Original and Personal sin, explain the links. What other quotations can be linked to ‘forgiveness’?

Tips for using texts with students

  • Give paragraphs numbers – it makes it easier when discussing a specific paragraph or dividing up for students to read out in class
  • Ask students for any text comprehension questions at the start i.e if they don’t understand a word
  • Get students to come up with questions about the text. If needed, divide up the text for different students to focus on so it’s not overwhelming.
  • Plan the questions you want to ask students:
    • General context questions – when was it written? why? who for? what was happening at the time?
    • Specific beliefs & teachings questions
    • How it might be used by followers today
  • Model how students can annotate and add notes to the texts
  • Being controversial – what do these texts tell us that might be controversial? Do they always support other teachings? Plan for controversial discussions.
  • It’s actually very difficult to teach some of this. It requires confidence of subject knowledge on behalf of the teacher. However, whenever I’m unsure I tell the students and then find out the answer (usually through contacts on social media).


Suggested reading: All Bob Bowie….

Bowie, R. (2016) Doing RE hermeneutically – learning to become interpreters of
religion. RE Today, 34 (1). pp. 60-62. ISSN 0226-7738.

Developments in Hermeneutics and Teaching the New Testament – Bob Bowie